Ghost Hunting Reality Shows: Are They Doing More Harm Than Good?
In today’s popular culture, ghost-hunting shows are bombarding cable networks, from Ghost Adventures to The Haunted with new ones popping up every year. How do we know what really is happening is valid and are they doing more harm than good? Some viewers of these shows tend to believe that what is occurring is real because the ghost hunting team is adept at persuading the spectators that something scary is happening without showing much proof. “They need hosts who will communicate their terror and distress in order to sway the viewers that what is happening is accurate,” as Karen J. Renner states in her 2013 Negotiations of Masculinity in American Ghost-Hunting Reality Television.
Indeed a few of the shows have been “ghost-busted.” In the 2007 article Most Haunted and the Convergence of Traditional Belief and Popular Television Mikel J. Koven mentions that the show, Most Haunted, a UK program, has been accused of fraud, deception and potential harm to vulnerable viewers. There are a number of reasons why the teams’ psychic medium, Derek Acorah, was found to be a fraud. Other shows, such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, have also been discredited. The TAPS team from Ghost Hunters will broadcast their evidence on their website for the viewers to judge for themselves, and it has been proven that a lamp that had been moved was caused by one of the members. In Ghost Adventures, on one episode a team member claims that his EMF meter was knocked out of his hand by something unknown and unseen. Upon close examination it is evident that he had thrown it.
Perhaps there is too much pressure on these ghost hunters to produce results. David Rountree, a friend who had gotten a contract to have a series, Ghost Stalkers, to be broadcasted on Destination America, witnessed this pressure first hand. He and his team used their scientific knowledge and refused to make up stuff. They fought constantly with the network to keep their integrity so they only had six episodes and never heard back from the network.
Another issue with these shows is hpyermasculinity and provocation of spirits. Renner (2013) argues that ghost-hunting, whether it be through spiritualism or mediumship, was conducted mainly by women and how reality ghost-hunting shows are dominated by men. “The male stars of these shows overcompensate with hypermasculine acts and language.” Renner particularly references Ghost Adventure as the main focus of this hypermasculine American reality television. In the introduction of Ghost Adventures, they state that the show is ‘raw’ and ‘extreme,’ suggesting what they do is some sort of extreme sport which it is not. She references how Zak Bagans, the hard-bodied athlete and the alpha male of Ghost Adventures, will use provocation and “bullies” the ghosts because the ghosts were bullies in real life and continue to bully the place that they haunt. Some other shows will also use provocation and bully the spirits. I am extremely annoyed by this because this is taboo in the real world of Ghost Hunting. A viewer who wants to do an investigation in a supposed haunted place and provokes a spirit will end up possibly harming themselves and/or others around them. You never open a door to the spirit world without knowing how to close it properly!
These shows tend to portray many hauntings as demonic or evil in nature. It seems like most of the places that these shows investigate have been negative hauntings. Whether it’s a prison, an asylum or some Inn, it’s always the same outcome: someone was a negative or evil person when they were alive, and now they are negative in the spirit world. As a paranormal investigator with NJ Ghost Hunters Society and someone who can sense spirits, I know what it’s like to come across spirits. I have walked through Eastern State Penitentiary and have had mixed sensations. I’ve walked through a cemetery and felt heartache, pain and sadness. I’ve felt children all around me in one cemetery. I didn’t realize it when I first stepped into the area but I just felt hyper, excited and felt like a child. I look at one headstone, child, the next one, child and so on. I will feel the positive and the negative spirits and rarely ever come across something dark. There are many reasons and causes for hauntings and I know for a fact that hauntings and “ghosts” are not always negative. Spirits are all around us, everywhere, good and bad.
When some viewers believe wholeheartedly that what is happening is real and that spirits are negative they tend to believe that they are being haunted. We had a client whose brother had passed away a few years earlier but because of medications she was taking, which can cause hallucinations, and after watching these shows, she believed that she was being haunted by a negative entity or demon. But it turned out that it was her brother that was reaching out to her and she thought that what was happening was something negative. This is not the only case that we were called to investigate where the client believed they were being haunted by negative spirits. We’ve had a case where the home has been in the family for decades and all of a sudden they were being haunted by some negative spirit. But in fact it wasn’t a negative spirit at all. The woman just had a baby and it was an ancestor reaching out from beyond. The woman had been feeling a presence of someone but because she watches these shows and the movie Paranormal Activity movies she thought it was a negative spirit.
These shows, and the networks who air them, are making a mockery out of something that is serious, just to get ratings. As a paranormal investigator who respects the spirit world, I can assure you that they lack validity, integrity and by using provocation, they are actually doing more harm than good.
Koven, Mikel J.(August 2007) Most Haunted and the Convergence of Traditional Belief and Popular Television Taylor and Francis Group Retrieved from: http://ezproxy.arcadia.edu:2062/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=2c7ecd62-99f9-4ef5-8b29-dbcc7e52583a%40sessionmgr4001&vid=8&hid=4206
Renner, Karen J. (2013) Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television Intellect Limited Retrieved form: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/host/2013/00000004/00000002/art00005